A century ago, West 32nd Avenue in north Denver was known simply as the road to Golden. While it is still one route out of town, nowadays the avenue is synonymous with Highland Square, and it's almost a miracle if travelers can resist the temptation to stop. The small but vibrant neighborhood of Victorian homes and one-of-a-kind shops is among Denver's most charming.
At this time of year, the three blocks of decorated shops between Julian and Meade Streets are especially festive. Locals looking to get into the spirit head for the Perfect Petal, a fragrant shop packed with giant poinsettias and ribbon-wrapped wreaths created by a design team that includes owners Alex and Cindy Ollig. The Olligs also own Posh, a boutique across the street that's crammed to its original embossed-tin ceiling with artsy note cards, comfy cotton clothes, and holiday housewares. At West Side Books, crowded shelves are brimming with more than 15,000 hard-to-find titles, signed copies, first editions, and mint-condition collectibles. Brother-and-sister owners James and Lois Harvey specialize in vintage children's books.
Framed by vineyard murals, the extensive wine selection at Mondo Vino should yield the perfect pairings for the 80-plus varieties of international cheeses available just around the corner at St. Kilian's Cheese Shop. Proprietors Hugh O'Neill and his wife, Ionah deFreitas, help demystify the cheese selection by offering free samples.
Warm up a wintry shopping day with a hearty lunch at Julia Blackbird's New Mexican Cafe, which is decorated with the chili-colored canvases of local painter Daniel Luna. Try the pecan-stuffed acorn squash, but save room for a sensuous slice of chocolate diablo cake. For something quicker, grab a grilled panini and eggnog latte at Poggio's Italian Coffee Bar Cafe & Gelateria, fashioned after owner Ken Griffin's favorite shop in Tuscany.